The New Zealand Professional Firefighters’ Union members start industrial action early Monday in their fight for reasonable wages and safer working conditions.
This strike action is largely behind the scenes and will not affect firefighters who will be responding to fires and emergencies and protecting the public as usual.
There is currently a fire crisis with Fire and Emergency NZ failing to employ sufficient career firefighters and 111 emergency call centre dispatchers to meet minimum staffing. As a result, some career stations have closed, fire trucks have been taken offline or firefighters are riding in unsafe short-crews to keep the fire trucks responding. If a fire truck is offline, a truck from further afield responds costing valuable time. FENZ’s own promotional advertising states minutes can be the difference between life and death.
- Firefighters are reporting working extraordinary hours trying to keep the fire trucks responding. Employed to work 42 hours a week, firefighters are largely working 60-80 hours and some report working 100 hours. FENZ is refusing to acknowledge the crisis and cancelled the April 2022 career firefighter recruit course.
- It was recently reported that FENZ firefighters respond to 96% of all out of hospital cardiac arrests across New Zealand. Professional career firefighters are co-responded with ambulance to the most life-threatening cases. Some firefighters report routinely attending multiple deaths a shift. The Union is seeking guaranteed mental health and wellbeing programmes that meet the needs of firefighters and ongoing access to psychological professionals. FENZ has refused stating it will deliver mental health programmes on an “ad hoc” basis.
- All ranks of firefighters are low paid. The lower ranks of firefighters are the poorest paid across FENZ. They are barely paid the adult minimum wage and the current wage offer from FENZ still leaves them poorly paid.
- The Officer ranks are also devalued and disrespected. FENZ pays some administration staff more than professional career Fire Officers who have been firefighting for more than 10 years.
- FENZ HQ staff are automatically covered with income protection insurance but FENZ is refusing to pay an allowance to assist firefighters and other NZPFU members to protect their health needs and income. Career firefighters are at high risk of contracting specific cancers due to exposures to carcinogens at fires, they have a high incidence of injury due to the dangerous and physically demanding work and the firefighters and 111 emergency call centre staff are routinely exposed to trauma requiring mental health assistance. FENZ said they were “not attracted” to provide income protection for NZPFU members.
NZPFU members recently overwhelmingly voted on a strategy of strike action escalation. The NZPFU members have sent a very clear and loud message that FENZ’s current offer devalues and disrespects the work they do and the inherent risks to their health, safety and wellbeing. The Union has called on FENZ the need to change their approach to the negotiations for a collective agreement and be prepared to negotiate fair wages and safer working conditions.
The NZPFU represents professional career firefighters, 111 emergency call centre dispatchers, Volunteer Support Officers, community risk reduction and resilience advisors, trainers and other specialist roles.